Do What You Want with Your Books

I love books. With all of my heart.

I was raised by a librarian, so my childhood was filled with the joy that comes from dragging fingers over rows of spines, finding worlds in the depths of musty pages. I worked in a library throughout college and then for an independent bookstore chain. I regard a beloved book like I do a friend or family member. I keep my cherished volumes near and dear to me.But I don’t care if others feel this way. And I still get rid of the titles that don’t inspire the same emotion, because I am a person who moves frequently and has learned–over time–to place less value on personal, replaceable property.


To me, this stance feels pretty uncontroversial, but the public outcry over Marie Kondo’s decluttering advice shows that it’s anything but. The Japanese organizing consultant, author, and star of Netflix‘s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo riled viewers when, in an episode of her new show, she said the value of books “lies in their information” and that there is no meaning in them just being on your shelves.

By practicing the KonMari Method, the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing, Kondo has reduced her own collection to just 30 books.

At a passing glance, maybe it would appear that Kondo is suggesting everyone follow her orders and strip their personal libraries down to the bare essentials. But that’s not what she’s saying at all. The entire purpose of the the KonMari method is to rid your home of objects that don’t inspire joy for you. If you have a pile of unread or disliked books gathering dust in your apartment, donate them. If you consider every book on your shelf a vital marker of your life’s journey, keep them. Easy enough, right? But reading between the lines hasn’t stopped social media from buzzing in all directions about Kondo’s book advice, and the conversations reveal some insidious undertones.Novelist Anakana Schofield had some particularly choice words to say on Twitter about the KonMari method and Kondo’s teachings.

Schofield’s tweets get at one the more disturbing aspects of this controversy that I’ve noticed: attaching value to an item, then using it to attack another person’s intellect. Kondo never said that the subject matter of the book must inspire joy, but that its physical presence should. To insinuate that people who sell or donate books are somehow obtuse about the meaning and purpose of literature is fundamentally classist. Many people simply cannot afford the luxury of holding onto every book they ever purchased.As a post-college 20-something, I used to sell my old books–books I purchased as a less financially burdened teenager–so I could buy groceries and pay rent. And that’s saying nothing of far more marginalized communities, where physical property and space are an extravagance not everyone can participate in. To act like freeing up space as a means of survival is some cardinal sin against intellectualism and personal growth is a fallacy, and a cruel-hearted one, at that.

Kondo herself has spoken up about her book advice controversy, reinstating exactly what she said from the beginning that people willfully ignored. “The point of the KonMari method is to figure out your sense of value, what do you hold most important,” she explained (through a translator) at a recent 92Y event. “If your reaction is anger that you have to let go of books, that’s great, because that means for you books are invaluable.”

You can also choose to think of it this way: by donating unread books to a used bookstore or library, you’re gifting joy to someone who couldn’t afford it otherwise. At the end of the day, physical items are physical items, but the human condition is unanimous.

Images: Netflix

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